Clap Your Hands Say Yeah -- self titled
Just when you DIYers had lost all hope, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah deliver their self-released debut gem -- and it serves as every indie-rocker's audio map to nirvana. How, I wonder, could music execs not drool over this album? Lack of vision? Lack of patience? Perhaps the ephemeral nature of so much indie rock gives one moment for pause. But I'd counter that is what makes it the year's best album: this might be all we ever get. And all you Unicorns fans understand what I mean.
Singer-guitarist Alec Ounsworth's voice is the most outrageous instrument in the band. He removes the shrieky shards from Frank Black's wails, fills his mouth with marbles, and nasal-mumble his endearing self-effacements into cryptic, incomprehensible, angelic noise. The restrained savagery of the backing musicians adds depth by refusing to overwhelm the simple formula. It may sound precious and sweet, but listen closely for the terror and tremble.
The opening track, "Clap Your Hands," sets the inclusive tone: If you don't want to feel lonely, join us. "Details of the War" and "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" are nine minutes of immaculate pop. And "Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood" further recalls the defunct Unicorns with the continued cry of "Child Star" as the album comes to a glorious end.
These are the sounds that float among the clouds and stars -- if there is a heaven, this is the soundtrack. It is a heaven full of Converse sneakers and glamorous orange scarves where we all clap along screaming our approval.
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- Superwolf
Heartless Bastards -- Stairs and Elevators
Fat Possum blues rockers that rock. Hard. Erika Wennerstrom is the breakout female vocalist this year. Try "Onions" and "New Resolution" to experience the revolution.
The Dexateens -- Red Dust Rising
Stephen Malkmus -- Face the Truth
Devendra Banhart -- Cripple Crow
Matisyahu -- Live at Stubb's
Forget reggaeton. The real goods come from this Hassidic Jew. Sounds gimmicky, sure, but try "Beat Box." I dare you to call me a liar.
Mount Eerie -- No Flashlight
Coachwhips -- Peanut Butter and Jelly Live at the Ginger Minge
San Francisco's three-chord thrashers. Loud and loose; capricious and wacky. Far more difficult than it sounds, though. Your next party soundtrack.
My Morning Jacket -- Z
The Hold Steady -- Separation Sunday
One of a slew of albums this year that heralded classic rock as indie's new muse, Separation Sunday is both a paean for existential angst and a requiem for drunk and dusted youth. Or maybe it's the other way around ... Containing nearly as much drug imagery as Christian iconography, it's a thoughtful and engrossing look at faith, escapism and the bone-deep yearn to be more than we are. Better than that, though, it's a fun ass album to listen to. You'll be dancing to the unassailable bar-rock riffs and keyboards, laughing at Craig Finn's boozy vocals, not even realizing that homeboy just dropped a Nabokov reference.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - self
Okkervil River -- Black Sheep Boy
I put this in my car stereo one day and didn't even consider changing it for like three months. Rootsy, affecting weep-rock (emolk?) -- gaze ye upon it and sob.
MIA -- Arular
Thrilling minimalist beats and jarring, learned, socially-charged flows. Viva la Revolucion!
Andrew Bird -- ... and The Mysterious Production of Eggs
Architecture in Helsinki -- In Case We Die
Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois
Quasimoto -- The Further Adventures of Lord Quas
I'm calling it right now: this'll be like Paul's Boutique, the album all rap will mimic in four to six years. Quas is hip-hop's Oracle at Delphi.
Art Brut -- Bang, Bang Rock and Roll
Pretentiously low-brow, eruditely dim-witted, this is the most fun you'll have with hipster self-mockery this or any year.
DangerDoom -- The Mouse and the Mask
Laura Veirs - Year of Meteors
I've been listening to this record for four months and I simply can't find a flaw. It's exquisite. Veirs' lyrics are razors, the band is tight - deep in a murky groove one minute, cascading sound the next - and that voice! The Seattle-based folkie has one of the most provocative voices in popular music. Not powerful or showy, it's plain and unadorned, painfully articulated. But while some American critics mistake that for indifference, her legions of fans in Europe know better: its earnestness is elegant. Veirs' voice could turn a black hole inside out. It does here.
Andrew Bird - ...And
the Mysterious Production of Eggs
The Decemberists -- Picaresque
Son Volt -- Okemah and the Melody of Riot
Front man Jay Farrar was about as fun as a sack of pig iron at Pig Out, but this record is just the opposite. It shimmers, it soars, it rocks. I've done more pathetic air drumming to this album than any other all year.
Nickel Creek -- Why Should the Fire Die?
Amadou & Mariam -- Dimanche a Bamako
World music geeks are screaming that producer Manu Chao ruined this blind couple from Mali's normally haunting and restrained roots-blues. Whatever. Groove-heavy and propulsive, Dimanche is the ass-shaker of the year.
His Name Is Alive - Summerbird EP
The Books -- Lost and Safe
Langhorne Slim -- In the Midnight
Of Montreal -- Sunlandic Twins
I'm still pretending I'm in Antarctica.
Comet Gain -- City Fallen Leaves
UK band Comet Gain fuels its thoughtful, rough-edged pop and soul with punk energy to create another brisk and beautiful collection. The bookish will delight in the many literary, rock and film references (Raymond Chandler, the Go-Betweens and Alphaville all get nods), while those with damaged hearts will gravitate to the bittersweet recollections of friends and lovers missing in action. The acutely personal nature of many of the songs imbues the album with an intimacy that's almost unnerving. Yet hopeful notes prevail, making City Fallen Leaves both deeply introspective and warmly inviting.
The Runners Four
Ferociously inventive. Complex yet playful. Magically delicious new offering from a daring S.F.-based unit that reinvents rock with each outing.
Swords -- Metropolis
Broken Social Scene -- Broken Social Scene
Ignoring trends yet shunning no sound, BSS again delivers an ambitious modern album infinitely worthy of your patronage.
Wolf Parade -- Apologies to the Queen Mary
Stephen Malkmus -- Face the Truth
Silver Jews -- Tanglewood Numbers
Tuneful genius this casual and satisfying appears only once in every binge-rehab cycle. Net it while you can.
Love as Laughter -- Laughter's Fifth
New Pornographers -- Twin Cinema
Caribou -- The Milk of Human Kindness
Caribou -- The Milk of Human Kindness
I've got this problem, this addiction. You see, Doc, I love drummers. I mean, I love them. The ones who hit hard and fast - there's nothing hotter. But you see, there's this guy called Caribou. His latest album is this masterpiece of layered, honeyed dissonance, of cacophonic harmony. Electronic grit meets Uzi blastbeats. And then, get this: When it's all swelled and built up, Caribou breaks the skin, explodes everything he's worked so hard to build with these vanilla-sweet harmonies and frenetic guitars. You gotta help me, Doc. I love the record so much. I feel like I'm cheating.
Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth
Belt of Vapor - Playing God
Playing God is cultish for a hard-rock personality; the only local record I've heard that could convince me to sample the Kool-Aid.
Jesu - self titled
Beck - Guero
Sigur Ros - Takk...
Gorillaz - Demon Days
Battles - EP C
M.I.A - Arular
At the same time, one of the most annoying and one of the coolest albums of the year. M.I.A. breaks all musical boundaries, force-feeding staccato, lowbrow hip-hop into our monotone-trained ear canals.
Matisyahu - Live at Stubbs